On a day like Veteran’s Day, the word itself has a totally different meaning, which is perhaps why it is on our minds in the first place.
Being a hero involves more than just accomplishing heroic deeds. All athletes carry out that. It concerns them.
The people truly deserving of our adoration are those who display courage outside of their own sports, who give up their time, money, and occasionally even their own well-being for the sake of others.
10. Michael Jordan
If you’re doubtful, you might be sitting there wondering just what Michael Jordan accomplished to become a hero off the basketball court.
Jordan was and still is “the first great athlete of the wired world,” as one great sports writer memorably put it.
And if I may add my two cents, I would think that Jordan might be the first genuinely famous person in the wired world. His celebrity appeal was able to cut across national lines, making him a sort of figurehead for the contemporary era.
It’s true that MJ could do with putting more personal sacrifices. However, I believe that he needs to be mentioned here for sparking a revolution that went beyond sports.
9. Terry Fox
Ever ponder the origin of all those charities runs?
You’re observing him.
Distance runner and basketball star Fox had his right leg amputated in 1977 after getting the malignant diagnosis of osteosarcoma.
Fox started the “Marathon of Hope,” a cross-country marathon across Canada, in 1980 while using an artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He left Saint John’s and traveled as far as Thunder Bay, which is outside of Ontario, before being forced to stop due to his deteriorating health.
He intended to finish his marathon, but his cancer metastasized to his lungs, and nine months later he passed away.
By the time he was forced to call off the Marathon of Hope, he had raised $1.7 million.
8. Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman ended his football career early in order to join the American army and participate in the War on Terror.
At the time of the September 11th attacks, Tillman was a top safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and in May 2002, he declined a contract offer for $3.6 million. In June, he and his brother Kevin, a competent pitcher in his own right, enlisted. In September, they finished basic training.
After some discussion, it was determined that Tillman’s 2004 combat death was the result of friendly fire.
No modern athlete even comes close to Tillman’s degree of sacrifice.
7. Roberto Clemente
At this moment, it is fairly generally believed that professional athletes and charities are connected.
However, Roberto Clemente did it before it became a popular professional duty, and it ultimately cost him his life.
During the offseason, Clemente used to volunteer for his native Puerto Rico, but it was a trip to Nicaragua that ultimately took his life. He was on a dangerously overcrowded relief flight to Managua when it crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico.
The Roberto Clemente Award now recognizes the athlete who most exhibits sportsmanship and volunteerism.
6. Billie Jean King
I’ve never cared that much about securing my position in history, Billie Jean King once remarked. Sports are so fleeting and fleeting in nature. Sport teaches you that life carries on even when you’re not there.
And I believe that contributes to Billie Jean King’s significance. During the 1970s, when she achieved fame for her triumph over Bobby Riggs, she played a significant role in the campaign for women’s equality.
Later, in the 1990s, Life magazine would list her as one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.”
5. Arthur Ashe
“True bravery is amazingly calm and unassuming. It is the impulse to serve others at all costs rather than the urge to outperform everyone else at all costs.”
These are not the remarks of a political figurehead or even of a man attempting to unseat a political figurehead. These are Arthur Ashe’s exact words. He is on this list for just this reason.
It would have been sufficient if Ashe had only been remembered as the first outstanding African American tennis player. However, he employed his notoriety to advance civil rights movements, most notably the fight against Apartheid.
4. Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson had a greater impact than merely on baseball. He had a significant role in a movement that altered the culture. And that is priceless.
“What made him so important was… that he stood at the exact intersection of two powerful and completely contradictory American impulses, one of the impulse of darkness and prejudice, and the other over the impulse of idealism and optimism, the belief in the possibility of true advancement for all Americans in this democratic and meritocratic society,” wrote the late David Halberstam.
That is the best I can do with my weak words.
3. Ted Williams
The baseball community will always be grateful to Teddy Ballgame for all he done for the game. Ted Williams is widely regarded as the best batter to ever live.
Fortunately, Williams’ long military experience and his time as a standout left fielder for the Boston Red Sox are both equally well known.
The Splendid Splinter served five years of his active duty as a combat pilot in Korea and as a flight instructor in WWII. Williams’ prime baseball years would have been in the middle of those five years.
Williams received the chance to play baseball for the Navy and Marines throughout each of his tours of duty. He opted for combat instead.
2. Jessie Owens
I believe that anyone who could personally enrage Hitler deserves to be hailed as a hero. And I’m grateful that at least one sportsperson is capable of achieving hero status in that manner.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics, which were meant to be a display of the so-called “master race,” were headlined by Jesse Owens.
Hitler decided to forego any medal presentations after the first day after Owens won four gold medals.
All things considered, Owens’ tale ranks among the best in Olympic history.
1. Muhammad Ali
I’d like to once more cite the great David Halberstam to introduce Ali:
“I thought he was a great fighter, a remarkable, luminous personality, a genuine original (unlike so many thin imitators who have since come along), and ultimately someone so large on the landscape that he transcended the more niche world of sports for the more expansive one of American history,” the author said.
Muhammad Ali was perhaps the greatest athlete and cultural symbol of the 20th century in America. He was more significant than both boxing and athletics.
And for that reason, he stands beyond Jackie Robinson in terms of heroism. Both of them refused to accept anything from anyone, but Ali dealt with far more.